Aside from special effects, blood, raging rhinos and an elaborate imagination one thing necessary to bring the film adaptation 300 to life was an actor that could take the lead role of King Leonidas and own it. Director Zack Snyder found his man in Gerard Butler and by the time the film is over you too will believe in the Spartan King.
Before now Butler was known as a good actor, but his talents were limited to either smaller films, smaller roles or what some may call “more artsy” films, which includes 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera in which Butler played the singing spectre. He played Dracula in Dracula 2000 and carried out roles in Reign of Fire, Tomb Raider and Timeline, but it wasn’t until now that he forces you to remember him and believe me when I say, you will remember him.
Along with several other online “press” I had the chance to sit down and chat with the Scottish star. Enjoy!
How do you approach a character like Leonidas, who in the book is between history and myth? How do you prepare for a character that exists between those worlds?
Gerard Butler (GB): There’s always an element of balancing that has to go on. I think that it’s really trying to strike a balance between many things without getting too caught up in the different technical elements. I’ve never come across a character quite as powerful and intense and as charismatic as this guy, and as bad-ass, I mean, he’s a fucker. Yet, you know that you have to rise to that element that it goes past even epic and it becomes comic book. But at the same time, to only do that and never give him a heart and a soul, then the whole thing means nothing. It involves choosing your moments.
For me, I really focused on becoming as big and as strong and as confident in those things as I could possibly be. Even doing a lot of working out just before the takes, and constantly doing that. Every time I trained, it made me feel more like a Spartan, more like a king, more like I was impressing my men and more like they would be willing to follow me. Also, that fire is burning inside you, and then you can go completely the opposite way. I literally walked around Montreal with my shoulders back and my chest up. Just that feeling of real inner-confidence.
Then you can fun with the other things because it was actually difficult to suck all that in and let out… He had a lot of things going on. There’s an arrogance there, there’s a confidence, there’s a humor, there’s a dryness, there’s a passion, there’s a certain amount of humanity, and then, the guy is a nut job. I mean, he’s crazy, and there’s a fearlessness that borders on insane. To try to get all those in, with a man who really doesn’t talk that much was a challenge, and then to do it all in front of a green screen. There’s a way of doing it and there’s a way of talking about it and as you can see I’m not very good at talking about it. [laughing]
Those were really your abs in the film?
GB: Yeah, I tried to borrow someone else’s, but they wouldn’t give them up. That was seven months of training.
There was always a part of me going, ‘Okay, am I going to stop doing this?’ But I really was really kind of happy and surprised that I kept it up. I kind of became, I think, a bit addicted to it or perhaps addicted to the advantages it was giving me. Because after a certain point, I never once felt silly or strange standing in my cape, that started to become, just a couple of days after putting it on, one of my biggest allies. Wearing that costume and feeling so strong and that your body was an intimidating factor and an inspiring factor for your army, as we all were. I mean, you’re surrounded by probably a few tons of muscle, and when you pull that together and pull that spirit together and have nothing but focus and belief and pure intention… the power of that! You become a thousand times stronger. It actually makes sense that you could hold off an invading army that doesn’t have that belief, that are in disarray, that you could hold them off quite easily.
In terms of creating a character, is it harder if you’re behind a mask as you were in Phantom of the Opera?
GB: I’ve had to play characters where there’s a difficulty of expression. Maybe that’s what I like to do, though. I started acting kind out of nowhere, I started in theater, and actually my biggest thing when I started acting was people were always saying, ‘Great, but bring it down. Bring it down.’ And the more I brought it down, the more I started to trust what I could genuinely feel and say the less that I did, then suddenly roles like Phantom became a beautiful thing to do. To try and say so many things while one, singing, and two, wearing a mask, means that you have very little ways. It’s really in the eyes.
It’s the same with Leonidas in some ways because he can’t be expressive in a modern way, throwing his hands around, winking – you lose all of that. To me, if there was one moment in this film, if you were to see him suddenly be weak, the audience would lose faith in that. So, no matter what else you were trying to express, it would always have to come from a foundation of absolute power and strength and solidity and gravitas.
At what point in the production, did you realize this movie was going to be incredible?
GB: When I saw it. [laugh] No, I almost want to say that I had a kind of psychic feeling about it. Before I even knew what it was about, when Greg Silverman at Warner Bros. said, ‘Have you heard about this movie 300?’ I don’t know what it is, but just the title, 300, was so simple and strong. It’s like a strong guy with a shaved head – this is it, here I am, I’m not hiding behind anything. That was the one advantage of the Phantom by the way – you could also hide behind that mask.
I kind of knew there was just something cool about it. Then they explained the story and I was like, ‘Wow!’ As you know, it’s my kind of story, but it also felt like a story with a twist, the way our heroes formed their morality, their methods, between each other and against the enemy. Then I took a look at the graphic novel and saw the three-minute piece that they did, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is insane. If this could be even a tenth of what I saw in that test, with the story that already exists here, then we’re on to something really cool.’
They had a hard time green-lighting it, and sometimes that’s a good thing because you know what you’re not making is something mainstream. You’re making a vision, and that vision often really has to be impressed upon people. People have to be turned in and clicked into what that vision is.
Which was another great thing about the film because I feel like Warner Bros. just kind of said, ‘Alright, listen, Zack [Snyder], you obviously get this. This is a lot of stuff we don’t really get at what you’re trying to do, but we trust that we have something here. So just go off and do it.’ In that respect, it often felt like an independent film. We were just doing our own thing. I was amazed at some of the changes, big changes, that we would come up with, just through our conversation on set. We were about to film and it’s like, ‘Why don’t we cut all that?’ or, ‘Why not I just don’t say all that? It’s probably going to be more powerful.’
What was the training regime like?
GB: I trained seven months, pretty solidly. I was doing six hours a day. I took the film trainer, but I also kept my own trainer. It was kind of a political decision because they didn’t want me to have my own trainer, but I knew I had to increase bulk as well. For me, just for me. So I did that, and I also trained with two of the stunt guys two hours a day here in the Valley. It was like 120 degrees outside, it was so hot. Then I did the same in Montreal, I took my own trainer outside the film and then this crazy Venezuelan body builder called Franco LiCastro, who had views on everything, but it was great. He just became like my little buddy. He was so passionate about my training. I trained with everybody I could. And I kept it up and I pumped in between all the shots as well to feel all that intensity. I did a lot.
How much of the film is you and how is your stunt double, especially in that long sequence where you take out like 20 guys?
GB: That’s all me. All me.
Was that in one shot?
GB: One shot, yeah. Yeah. But you know what, we took a whole day filming that. Maybe there’s a break half way through it, but we would do it the whole way through. Literally, that is me. My stunt guys said – they did The Matrix and The Bourne Identity and I really clung on to this fact – they said nobody in any of those films had to do a piece this long, uncut, with this many moves. I mean, that took a lot of training, and I almost didn’t do it.
It took half a day just to set up this special rig. Zack said, ‘I think we’re going to have your stunt man do it,’ and I died. Because I knew I was ready. He hadn’t seen me do it. But then he said, ‘Go ahead, rehearse it a little bit.’ Then I ended up doing it, and it was such a blast. Then there was a problem with the rig, that it came out of focus. There was a problem with a mirror. It was a new rig that had never been used before – three cameras. So ended up having to shoot the whole fucking thing again. That was depressing, but it actually came out even better.
How carefully was it choreographed?
GB: Very carefully, I must have done it about 500 times, training, and yet still mistakes would happen every time. To be honest, that’s actually what makes it what it is. At a point, you would go, ‘You know what, if this was to look so smooth and perfect, it kind of takes away something from it.’
The first day I did it, there was something amazing about that. It was full of mistakes, but was so raw and hyped, the mistakes made it look even better. Thing went wrong and I’d go, ‘How cool does that look, that I hit him in the balls instead of the stomach?’ Honestly, sometimes, I hate to say it, but you pick up an injury and that was the stuff that looked really good.
You talked about how your costume helped with the character. Did it provide any difficulties, just wielding that shield or the mobility issues?
GB: A lot of chafing the groin area. You know what the weird thing is, and I don’t want to sound like a pussy because I trained really hard, but the cape, if anything – if you were to say, ‘Hold up that tape recorder,’ that’s fine. But if were to say, ‘Hold that up for 16 hours,’ it gets pretty hard.
The cape is actually very heavy. When you first put it on, you don’t think about it, but you naturally have to tense your shoulders to wear it and by the end of the day, you’d be just lifting it up to get some relief from your neck. I had knots in neck, down my left side, because this was where the heave part was. During the fight sequences, the cape would twirl and you’ve got 50 guys running toward you, and you’ve got the sword like this [stabbing motion and he acts as if the sword is stuck], and you know that it’s 45 minutes to set up the shot again if that doesn’t happen. Yet, there’s a guy coming at you with a spear and if you don’t do that and he fucks up, then you have a spear in your belly.
A lot of the times, the sword would just stick on the cape because this cape would fly all over the place. We fought twice the speed in this film. Normally in a film you would do bang, defense, bang, defense. [He motions as if sword-fighting.] This was [faster now] bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. And it was one, two, three different guys. It was kind of crazy.
300 opens in theaters on Friday, March 9. For more information on the film including clips, pics, news and much more click here.